Richard Branson, the business magnate who created Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways, has taken on a new challenge with the launching of Virgin Cola in Baltimore and five other U.S. cities yesterday.
"Virgin is synonymous with a company that loves to take on companies that are gigantic and too profitable," Branson said in an interview yesterday. "The biggest brand name of them all is Coke." The new cola, which was launched in Great Britain in 1994, will be sold in convenience stores locally, Branson said. The other U.S. cities where the product is debuting are New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington. Virgin Cola already is sold in France, Belgium, Switzerland, South Africa, the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Baltimore was one of the sites chosen because Virgin Airways flies into Washington, so the name is familiar to consumers. And the Virgin name is expected to become even more familiar, because Branson hopes to have a Virgin Megastore and Virgin Theaters open within about nine months in the Baltimore area.
Branson promises that the advertising for Virgin Cola and Virgin Cola Diet will be unlike anything consumers have ever seen from Pepsi and Coke. For example, his cans will feature pictures of members of the public -- thousands over the years, he hopes.
Branson likes to do things in a dramatic way. His kick-off in New York yesterday had him clad in fatigues and riding an army tank flanked by Virgin Cola urban guerrillas.
The American soft drink industry is worth $50 billion, with cola accounting for just under half that amount.
"We've had a couple years to test-market," he said. "Last month, we overtook Pepsi in Britain. We feel we're ready to take on Coke and Pepsi in their native markets."
Pub Date: 5/13/98